The Picos de Europa are a totally spectacular mountain range in the north of Spain.…
To Uskovnica Hut
We were up at 6am that morning. My body begged me not to leave the bed, but I had to ignore it. This was the day that we would summit Mount Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia. Triglav in Slovenian means ‘three heads’ and the biggest ‘head’ has a peak that stands at 2,864m. Triglav wouldn’t be the tallest mountain I’d ever stood on, but considering our hike would begin at 526m, it would be the greatest altitude gain I’d ever hiked. Summiting Triglav is a rite of passage in Slovenia. It is said that one isn’t a true Slovenian until he/she reaches the peak. When we heard this, we knew we had to do it.
The bus that would take us from where we slept in the van to the trailhead didn’t start running until 9:30am and so, knowing that our day had to begin much earlier than that, we rode our bicycles 7km to the trailhead. We locked them up at Hudičev Most or Devil’s Bridge, which is a commonly used name for bridges in Slovenia that cross highly dangerous water (seriously, look it up), and hit the path. Gosh, it was boring. We hiked straight up and up and up, through thick forest. There were no beautiful valley views and no stunning vistas, just the occasional spiderweb that got caught on my face. After two hours of this, we arrived at our first stop of the day, the Uskovnica mountain hut. We took our bags off our backs, sat at a picnic table, and shared an apple with some nutella while we stretched our ankles. Ok, two hours down…
To Vodnikov Dom
The hike up continued. Dang, we gained a lot of altitude! Finally, after what seemed like forever, we cleared the trees and could see the view. From where we stood, we could see Bohinj Lake, where we started our day. We stopped for some water and a piece of chocolate… gotta keep that energy up! We walked along a cliff for a few more hours. We came to a big climb, and as we hiked up, the sweat began to drip. The sun was shining right on us, and was unforgiving. Just then, a couple of trail runners ran by. Carrying nothing but water on their backs, they scaled the hill like it was nothing, which made me feel ridiculous for sweating and panting like a dog. Michael assured me I was doing well, and his words of encouragement gave me the energy I needed to push through to the next stop, the Vodnikov Dom mountain hut. Again, we sat at a picnic table outside and had a snack — wraps with tuna and cucumber! From where we sat, we could see the final stop, the Kredarica hut, where we would sleep this evening. It looked so far away. If my legs could guffaw, they would have at the mere idea of climbing up to that hut. We filled our water bottles from the spring nearby and hit the trail. One. Last. Push.
To Kredarica Hut
Somehow, I didn’t collapse. Somehow, I didn’t stop. Somehow, my legs continued to step one foot in front of the other, and climb. We carefully crossed steep ice and snow patches that blocked the path and scrambled up loose scree. When we finally reached the top, I could have cried! My legs ached, my back burned, my feet were tight, and I yearned to sit down. One thing I love about hiking in Europe are the mountain huts. In Canada, you arrive to the backcountry cabin and have to build a fire, boil water, cook the food you brought. Not in Europe. Here we were, at 2,515m, and they were serving cold beer! Other hikers gathered around on the picnic tables, looking a lot less tired than us. We hiked 24km, gained 1,989m of elevation. We sat down and sparked up a conversation with Sarah and Jordan, from Pennsylvania, USA. We were all exhausted and loopy, and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s tired hilarity. We laughed so much. I’m not even sure that what we were saying was funny, but we were so tired it didn’t matter. At 8pm, we retired to the dorm beds and I was out like a light.
I woke up at 4am when another hiker in the dorm room began rustling his clothes and preparing for his day. I’m sorry, 4am?! Through sleep-crusted eyes, watched him don his warm hiking layers, grab his poles, and head out the door. I lay in bed, looking out the window at the fog-covered Triglav. You should have heard the pep talk I was giving myself! I could have done anything after words of encouragement like those! At 5:30am, Michael woke up and rolled over. “What do you want to do today?” I asked. He smiled and said, “Let’s climb a mountain!”
We ate our breakfast at a picnic table on the deck, and watched as the clouds danced around the summit. At 6am, we were ready to go. We put on our helmets, harnesses, and checked our gear. The last 875m of this hike was a via ferrata with steel cables to clip our carabiners onto. Let’s do it! The first five minutes were the hardest. My body was stiff and cold and I was out of breath quite quickly. We had to climb up Kleiner Triglav (the smallest head of the mountain), walk across a skinny rock path, and then climb the rest of the way to the peak. I felt like I had three points of contact with the rock at all times; my hands were doing just as much work as my feet! We reached the top of the little head, and then came to the narrow walkway. This is the perfect example of when someone should say “don’t look down.” On both sides of the path were sheer drops of ice and rock. I can’t tell you more about them, because I took my own advice and kept my head up.
We climbed up the big head and reached the top of Triglav. We did it! We stood on top of Slovenia. It’s an incredible feeling, standing on top of a mountain that towers over everything around you. I felt huge and tiny, like I could laugh and cry, all at the same time. In the far distance, we could see Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria. It stands at 3798m, which dwarfs Triglav, and was the only peak we could see above the clouds in the west. Sarah and Jordan soon arrived at the top, too. We took turns taking photos for each other and sharing our thoughts on the ascent. Sarah confessed she is afraid of heights, so I was wildly impressed that she made it up to the top! I stood on the edge, wrapped my arm around Michael’s waist, and soaked in the view. What an extraordinary moment.
Then we saw wildlife!
Then I remembered the hike we have today and the moment was over. We climbed back down to the hut and arrived at about 8am. Michael bought an espresso and we sat to enjoy the view for a moment before heading down. We scrambled back down the scree and back across the steep ice and snow patches that blocked the path. We saw a marmot! Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen one so close. They are dang cute! Then, buzzing from our wildlife high, we turned the corner, and standing on the path in front of us was a zlatorog (a Slovenian mountain goat)! It was totally startled and bounded up the side of the hill into the trees. Woah! Two wildlife sightings in two minutes! That’s gotta be a record.
Hiking back down
We walked past Vodnikov and stopped briefly only to fill our water bottles. Then we arrived at a fork in the road. If we continued straight, we would take the same path down as we took yesterday coming up. If we turned right, we would walk along a totally new path! We chose the latter, hopeful for some new views. We hiked and hiked, down and down, through a thick and totally whimsical forest. We may not have had the views we hoped for, but I did see about a million butterflies! We sat on a big boulder for lunch, and while we ate, we watched the ants working hard on the ground, the busy bees buzzing around, and the butterflies fluttering by. I looked at my watch. We left the hut four hours ago. I looked at the map. We have only gone halfway. Holy moly, we’ll be hiking forever!
Out of the mountains
Down and down and down we went, until we reached a meadow with a few old buildings. It didn’t look familiar, but I took it as a good sign that we must be close to Devil’s Bridge. We followed the trail and walked along a dirt road that cut a field of tall grass right down the middle. A horsefly landed on my arm and I wiped it off. Another buzzed near my ear, so I whacked it away. Then another flew close to my face. I waved my arms and shrieked like a child. I looked at Michael and he too was swatting at big black flies. AHHHHHHHHH! We began to run! We ran as fast as our desperately drained legs could. We swatted at the air around our bodies. My pony tail did what a pony’s tail ought to do, and kept the flies away from my head. We ran through Hell’s Meadow (as I so aptly nicknamed it), and returned to a forested path. No more flies. Breathless, sweaty, and absolutely exhausted, I burst out laughing.
I think this was around the time we started brainstorming, nay, daydreaming about what we would have for dinner. The discussion began: We should definitely barbecue. Maybe burgers? No, too much work. We could just do rice or pasta. No, we should cook outside. Oh, let’s buy cold beer. Yes. Definitely cold beer. A few minutes of silent thought. I wanted pizza. Can you barbecue a pizza? Can you just buy a frozen pizza and put it on a grill? That would probably burn the bottom. A few more minutes of silent thought. Maybe we could wrap it in tinfoil? That would probably melt the cheese on top. Mmmmm, cheese. Oh my gosh, let’s add extra cheese! And meat! More silence. We could buy two frozen pizzas and put one on top of the other. Like a pizza sandwich! We could have a barbecued pizza sandwich! This will work.
Then we got lost
We walked and dreamed and planned until we didn’t know where we were. We started passing people walking the other way, which was a good sign, but didn’t know how far it was until our bicycles. Two young women joined us on the trail. I stopped them and asked if they speak English. They do! Alana and Katrine from Germany. They spent the afternoon at the waterfall nearby and were now walking back to their car. They invited us to follow them, so we did. To be honest, it was at this point I turned my brain off. I mindlessly followed these two German strangers, and would have followed them anywhere really. I was so ready to be done walking. We passed the time with them with conversation about our hike up Triglav, about their trip through Slovenia, and about Michael and my epic road trip the last ten months! And then, like a beacon, a parking sign appeared through the trees. It pointed us down a path, and on this path we found Devil’s Bridge and our bicycles! Oh my gosh, we still have a 7km bike ride!
After a quick stop at the tourist info centre to drop off our rented via ferrata gear, and an even quicker stop at the supermarket to buy cold beer and two frozen pizzas — yes, we are making a barbecued pizza sandwich, this is really happening — we cycled the rest of the way around the lake and arrived at the van. Faster than you can say “don’t forget the beers,” we were changed into our swimsuits, had the barbecue coals ready, the food in a bag, and the cooler in hand. We walked from the van to the edge of the water, placed everything on the ground, and dove right in.
We walked 24km on the first day, and a total of 27km on day two. There are easier ways to get up to the summit of Triglav; Sarah and Jordan started from Krma and it took them only 4 hours. Why we chose the long way? I’m still not sure. Would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad I did it? I’ve never been prouder of my body.
Did the barbecued pizza sandwich work? Abso-fucking-lutely.
Looking for more things to do in Slovenia? Click here!
We also did a via ferrata in Spain! Read about it here!